Doctors could soon be diagnosing appendicitis with a computed tomography (CT) technique that uses only half the radiation dose of current methods.
According to a statement from researchers who have been comparing the two approaches, the standard procedure involves the use of intravenous dye and delivers approximately 8 units of radiation (known as millisieverts). The low-dose method does not use dye, which can sometimes damage the kidneys, and delivers roughly 4.2 units.
One of the researchers, Dr. Kyoung Ho Lee from Seoul National University College of Medicine, Gyeonggi-do, Korea, told Reuters Health by email that "A different policy is needed on... radiation use for (appendicitis) patients as compared to the patients undergoing cancer work-up."
Many appendicitis patients, Lee noted, "are young and healthy" apart from their abdominal symptoms.
As they explain in the American Journal of Roentgenology, the researchers performed both low-dose and standard-dose CT on 207 patients with possible appendicitis. Then, they had two different radiologists each review all the scans.
No matter whether they were reading the standard-dose or low-dose scans, the radiologists were able to correctly identify patients with and without appendicitis in more than 95 percent of cases.
In other words, said the authors, the low-dose CT was "comparable" with the standard-dose CT.
So should everyone have a CT scan? Until larger studies have been conducted to confirm these early results, however, Lee recommends that larger patients who might have appendicitis should still have standard CT exams and that another test - ultrasound — be used "for thin patients and (those) below 18 years."